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AIBU to push my mum to do a 'clear out' and stop her hoarding?

(80 Posts)
williaminajetfighter Sat 05-Oct-13 22:56:24

My 72 year old mum lives alone in a large house filled with 'stuff'. She is not like those people on the Hoarders TV show but she is fairly bad at holding onto everything she's ever owned, every magazine, every card she's received. I think at the heart of it she's just incredibly sentimental.

Visiting her drives me loopy with the piles of paper,knick knacks etc. she spends a lot of time 'moving stuff around' and dealing with filing and sorting her mounds of paper like some mad archivist. I think her life would be a lot easier if it was clutter free.

I have at times encouraged her to do a clear out, have a yard sale, get rid of unwanted things, put stuff on eBay and it always ends in tears.

Part of me is also conscious that if not done now her kids will have a lot to go through after her death, although this obviously isn't my main motivation.

I fear I may just be imposing my minimalist way of living onto her but I can't help thinking a clear out would be good for her.

So should I press get on this one or just let it go?? Just would like to get others opinions especially those who have faced similar situations.

georgettemagritte Sun 06-Oct-13 00:54:21

Oh god how I wish I'd known about the Hoover museum before we gleefully threw the things out! My nan would have been proud etc.... ;)

Sunnysummer Sun 06-Oct-13 00:55:54

I'm with donkey. The people who are saying it is her problem and not yours have perhaps never had to deal with the horrendous clear out that has to happen after a hoarder passes away - just when the family are trying to deal with their grief, they also have to work out what on earth to do with all the mounds of stuff left over. Often in the end much of the stuff will get thrown away (or shoved in an attic to be thrown away by the next generation!), because there is simply no time to go through drawers and drawers working out what is and isn't worth keeping.

That said... I don't think that you should be doing it from the perspective that because you enjoy minimalism and clutter free living, she should too - she clearly doesn't share those values. But maybe you can at least help her to start sorting through what she feels is most sentimentally or financially valuable, and keeping that to one side and tidy, so that if she eventually does have to downsize to move to a retirement home, or reduce clutter to help her when she is less mobile, or when (hopefully in the far distant future) she passes away, her most important things are not lost.

There are some great resources online about how to do this sensitively, or if you have the resources a professional organiser with experience with hoarders can be a fantastic resource and also take some of the strain off the family relationship. All of this will only work if she agrees - and if not, then often the best thing to do is back off, only see the family member outside their home, and focus on enjoying your time together.

My parents are both 76 yo.
I'm 100% sure that my mum's hoarding is a distant remenant of the happy times of her childhood ( after the war and rationing) but of course they couldn't get things then even with the ration books.

She goes through 'phases' of collecting things. But it's not selective pretty and useful. It's anything that fits the criteria.

Someone gave her a huge (and ugly) plant when they moved. So she buys and grows plants. Every suface is covered in them.

Cookbooks
Cushions.
Teapots
Cruet sets
Starts with a couple. Then buys from charity shops.
Then she rescues anything that is being thrown out. Kitchen stuff.
She buys fire damaged bedding to see how it washes. She doesn't need it.

Then it was clocks. OMG The fecking clocks. At one point over 240 of them. Everywhere, None telling the right time.
It was like a creepy film.

And when I was 13-14 she decided to paint the walls white.Which can work with the right decor. But it didn't , it looked stark and clinical.

I got rid of nearly 100 and she agreed not to buy more. For about 6-7 years fine.
Now my aunt (who knows fine well how untidy and hoarding my mum is) has given her a clock. So it starts again.
"I've bought a clock...."

ancientbuchanan Sun 06-Oct-13 01:11:09

Yes, I have had to do it. I used approx 500 black bin bags. The oxfam bookshop refused to take any more books. All the charity shops refused any more curtains, furniture, bric a brac etc.. The local am dream company had a field day for costumes. There was an amazing bonfire. The house clearers got all sorts of things. It was exhausting. I had to inch through the doors of three rooms, it was a triumph when I could open the door fully. My hands and back didn't recover for weeks.

But my MIL had a right to live her life as she wanted, not as we found convenient, tidied away. It was infuriating. I too wanted to scream. But it was her choice.

NoComet Sun 06-Oct-13 01:12:37

My DDad has heaps of tools and models and stuff. Every time he goes to Aldi he buys more stuff. He drives my mum mad, but it keeps him happy.

He's well aware of his own mortality, no way would I start suggesting he down sized his junk. It's non of my buisness.

Only trouble is DH hordes similar type stuff so when he dies I know where it will all end up.

I went to a patients' house a while back.
The house was clean, nothing dirty or smelly but so much stuff.
The stairs had boxes and bags on every step.
The hall had heaped up boxes. Furniture was piled high.

I have no idea where they slept.
Only one room was accessible for me to work in.
There were empty wrappers from fresh foods with dates more than a year old.

I just thought "What if there's a fire. They'd have no chance" sad

Lazysuzanne Sun 06-Oct-13 01:31:11

Interesting thread, and for me a wake up call to keep my own (quite minor) hoarding tenancies in check.

I suspect that this can be a problem which snowballs?
ie, past a certain point a person becomes overwhelmed by and unable to deal with all the clutter, the resultant stress could then trigger more hoarding?

mrsspagbol Sun 06-Oct-13 01:55:49

^^yes i think so too lazy

WhenSheWasBadSheWasExhausted Sun 06-Oct-13 08:09:37

anyone else live with a hoarder

Hi don't really have any advice, this thread in relationships is an old one but has a bit of interesting stuff on people doomed to live with and love hoarders.

Ememem84 Sun 06-Oct-13 08:23:42

To a lesser degree my mum is like this. She will not throw anything away. I moved out of home when I was 22 after coming home from uni. I saved up wages for a year sand bought a small flat. 3 years later I sold flat and bought place with my now dh. Mum has a radiator from first flat in her loft (which never worked she was going to take it to the dump) in case I need it. Had to go up in loft the other day and was shocked. So many things is asked her to take to charity shop were up there. Boxes from new tv in case they ever move house and need boxes. Old suitcases. Every single piece of school and college work I ever did.

I don't think yabu as I'm itching to clear all the stuff out

fuzzpig Sun 06-Oct-13 08:53:29

I don't think it needs to be as bad as the hoarder programmes to count as a mental health issue.

I have hoarding tendencies but they aren't that extreme. However I have serious issues and anxiety around stuff. Major panic if I think somebody has thrown away something of mine etc, I will cry. I have a preliminary diagnosis of OCD.

And you absolutely can't help someone with this until they choose to help themselves. I reached my 'rock bottom' in the last year, and it's taken a physical disability to make me realise how much harder my life is because of my fear of letting to of things.

cheerup Sun 06-Oct-13 08:58:25

A subject close to my heart. My mum is the same although she lives in a flat rather than a large house. One of the rooms (mahoosive living room, the selling point of the whole flat) is inaccessible as piled high with boxes from when she moved in 5 years ago. The kitchen has boxes all over the floor and no surface space for food prep, the living room has piles of paper everywhere, there was a large bag of saucepans in the bathroom last time I visited as well as clothes hanging permanently in the shower cubicle as no space left in the bedroom. She's never been minimalist and when I was growing up I was always surrounded by 'stuff' but still had a life - friends, interests, things that made her happy. Since my grandma died two years ago it has got worse as her stuff has been incorporated into my mums and my mum's not been well (recently diagnosed with two chronic health conditions). Oh, did I mention the storage unit she also rents? This is all from memory 6+ months ago as I can't go there without saying something and tbh she doesn't invite me any more. I'm really sad that my children can't go to grandma's house, I'm really sad that she spends all her days moving things from one pile to another and trying to find things, I'm really sad that all this stuff is not making her happy and I'm scared that her health issues will worsen and she will still be living like this and then she will be not only psychologically but also physically incapable of sorting it out. Is hoarding really a choice if someone is depressed and unwell? I am but it's been made clear that she doesn't want me touching anything or helping in any way. We are very different, I tend to be very unsentimental (cold?) and (brutally?) rational whereas she is much more emotional; I like to 'do', she likes to 'think'. Fair enough, it's her life but mice and a dustbuster to deal with the 'fly issue'?

RooRooTaToot Sun 06-Oct-13 09:06:22

I'm not sure if this is a good suggestion, but could you go round armed with a scanner and a memory stick and encourage her to hoard the paper clutter electronically? Probably wouldn't work with family letters, but could perhaps with the 'interesting' articles?

She could catalogue them in different folders for 'recipes', 'crafts', 'important events' etc. then the paper version could be thrown away.

Once the paper is sorted, other things could be photogra

RooRooTaToot Sun 06-Oct-13 09:07:09

*photographed, perhaps with an accompanying text file that documents its history.

DorothyMantooth Sun 06-Oct-13 09:23:30

The OP describes to the last detail the situation between my DM and DGM. DGM (70 yo) is a terrible hoarder - she lives alone in a 3 bedroomed house but still has to have a storage unit to hold all of her stuff. She used to work for John Lewis and every year would buy masses of stuff in the sale, which she's never had any use for, so you can find 10 year old tops that are 4 sizes too big that still have the tags on. She also keeps papers, newspapers, magazines, jam and coffee jars, etc. One of the bedrooms is completely inaccessible and in another there is only a small pathway to the bed.

My mum is infuriated with her house and is in an ongoing battle with her to get it sorted. Sometimes my DGM allows my mum to help her to get started but it always ends in rowing. DM often complains to me about this but I was always of the opinion that it might be annoying to her (DM) but that DGM has the right to choose how she lives. The posts on here are really terrible and I understand my mum a bit more (TBH she and DGM have never got on and I thought DM was just trying to find something else for them to argue about. That said, I don't know what the solution is (if there is one).

In an added twist, both myself and my mum are hoarders by nature and we're both trying to keep it in check - however, when I was recently moving my mum offered to take some stuff to the charity shop for me, and I've recently discovered that she went through the bags and kept loads of it!

MisForMumNotMaid Sun 06-Oct-13 09:44:05

I'm a hoarder. I've recently downsized significantly with my DH and three DC to a house with under half the square footage of our last house.

I hate waste. I can't bare to throw things away which have function, or even potential of function i.e. are repairable or some of the parts might be useful.

There were some bits that were easier to clear.

I don't mind giving things away so for example I found a shelter that does kits for people setting up home with nothing and sorted out sets of cutlery, odd glasses, excess mugs etc.

Some magazines went to the DC's schools for cutting out. I wonder if some of the old ones of your mums would be gratefully received by a fashion class or similar at a local college?

There were some big ticket items I needed for the new house like an oven so I worked out what I needed and sold stuff on ebay to raise the cash.

The problem is I need the motivation. I need something to spark the declutter. I don't see it building. Like carrier bags now. Having moved from Wales to England free carrier bags have novelty value and I've ammassed a crazy amount in a few months - you never know when you'll need a bag! Its sort of a relief to see upthread someone saying give them to charity shops. I can cope with that.

Could you create a need for an item, maybe once a month, that needs to be decluttered. Even create flyers but with genuine contacts for the relevant organisation?

My Mum is hoarder. She lives in NZ.

Family don't want to go around and therefore she isolates herself more which probably contributes to her loneliness, which contributes to her collecting.

Yes to the shifting piles of papers, bags of wool, old food containers that could be good for plants. She got a new garage made with some inheritance that she's filled to the brim with crap.

She's kept her mother's old gravestone (it was replaced to a joint one when grandad died) It's sitting in her garden looking ghoulish. But we can't possibly let something like that not be kept.

My brothers and I have an agreement that we will turn up with a skip after she dies. But the mice thing just made me boak.

Donkeyok Sun 06-Oct-13 10:42:47

shock Your gmothers' grave stone! Holey Moley.

We are accumulating some good stories here rather than clutter.

That reminds me FIL ashes are in the living room makes clearing around that area a bit gruesome!

Was is William Morris or the Fly Lady who said,
"have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

In fact subscribing to Flylady might become a new collection of challenges for her! Perhaps a bit optimistic?

I think the suggestion to photograph some objects before parting with them is helpful as you can store them digitally and catalogue the files. Donating collections to relevant clubs (our school drama and art dept have been very grateful).
I myself struggle with getting rid of some of her more antique and interesting items as they are a historic record of past times.(detachable collars and studs) But I know I cant use 200 wooden cotton reels and bobbin and all gggm lace and unfinished sewing. I will have to find a home for that beautiful vintage sewing machine. My dd screamed last week when we were going through MILs mothers vintage clothes. She came running in 'there's a dead monkey in the bag!'
I approached it carefully with a stick after all I have found some very strange things. It turned out to be one of those fur wraps with the claw sticking out. We found 3 more in that bag YUCK.

Lazysuzanne Sun 06-Oct-13 11:07:45

Crikey
I also hate to waste things but I like to try and be efficient and I hope that would save me from spilling over into full blown hoarding.

It does sound as if the death of a relative and subsequent acquisition of their possessions was the tipping point in lots of cases?

Lazysuzanne Sun 06-Oct-13 11:19:26

Reading through the living with a hoarder thread (very interesting!) it strikes me that when one of a couple hoards it might be to do with a struggle for control of territory?

Imagine if both people were hoarders sad

Jan49 Sun 06-Oct-13 11:24:20

OP, if your mum isn't willing to get rid of stuff, then I think the most important thing you can do is keep an eye on her to make sure it doesn't get out of control. As long as she keeps her kitchen clear for cooking use, her bathroom clear for washing herself, and her bedroom clear enough that she can sleep in the bed, then that's manageable. But if those places get piled high with stuff so she can no longer use them then she'll be neglecting herself. Also of course, making sure it doesn't become a fire hazard, such as if the hallway is blocked.

CajaDeLaMemoria Sun 06-Oct-13 11:28:42

I hoard.

I'm 23, and I'm not sure if it's mental health related. I keep magazines, cards, wrapping paper, clothes, teddies, food.

To be honest, it's probably because I grew up not having anything, so getting presents etc is very new to me. I hope it will fade with time. My DP is very good at going through and throwing things away, but I know it frustrates him. I find it really distressing, too.

Whatever you do, do it carefully. And forcing your minimalist ways on her probably won't work - she'll just start to hoard again.

mrsjay Sun 06-Oct-13 11:28:51

just because your mum isn't keeping milk cartons and plastic bags doesn't mean she isn't hoarding iyswim

My mil was the exact same as your mum she kept everything and never threw anything away just incase it was needed, I wouldn't tell your mum she has to clear her house ask what does she want to do with all this stuff and could she donate or recycle some of it, but tbh she probably won't

Flossyfloof Sun 06-Oct-13 12:01:35

My Dad was not a hoarder but would never have binned anything of my Mum's or relating to their past together. A few years before he died we did empty the loft but most of the stuff ended up in one of the 4 bedrooms. The place was full, full, full - not a hoarder, but a keeper I suppose. Clearing the house on my own was horrendous and I regretted terribly not making more of an effort to clear the house beforehand. My Dad's mobility was poor and he didn't really go into the 3 spare bedrooms at all. As his sight went he didn't really use the study. I know people will disagree violently with this - but can you sneakily get rid of anything? Even a bag every visit would help your heartache later.
A neighbour cleared the garage for me. I know he helped himself to loads of my Dad's tools and stuff but to be honest the thought of going through a full double garage on top of a large house was just too much.
It is not a matter of trying to make your Mum live like you do, but it would make it so much easier to deal with when the time comes.

williaminajetfighter Mon 07-Oct-13 09:27:34

Thx everybody for all your very useful comments. My mom lives in North America and I only get to see her (and her house) once a year, so understandably have panic whenever I see it and feel obliged to do something in the 2 weeks that I am there. I have raised it with her but she's taken it very badly. I think I need to 'warm her up' in advance of coming and get her agreement about what we could go through and review/bin.

My father died a few years ago and she has not gotten rid of any of his things, ranging from files to socks, so this might be a good place to start... or just seeing if we can start on a particular room... Will tread carefully as others suggest.

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